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Cutler earns a solid B in opener

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(H. Rick Bamman)
H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com Chicago's Kyle Long leans in to get the message from center Roberto Garza as Jay Cutler calls an audible in the first half against Cincinnati at Soldier Field Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013.

The tale of the tape of the Bears’ 24-21 Week 1 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals allows us to begin forming some conclusions about where this 2013 model of the “Monsters of the Midway” might be heading.

Jay Cutler played well with a definite understanding of what he was trying to accomplish, the big-time arm and athletic ability in flashes that we keep waiting to see totally unleashed and a minimum of the body language that often fuels his detractors.

He did, of course, give us a Cutler moment, the inexplicable toss to Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict at a critical juncture of the game. But after Tim Jennings bailed him out with a fumble recovery three plays later, Cutler was unfazed and led his best drive of the game for the winning score. Give him a solid B.

Matt Forte and Michael Bush struggled on the ground, but Forte was solid with four catches for 41 yards. Forte is underrated in pass protection, but Michael Bush did whiff badly on Michael Johnson on one play. A C+ seems reasonable here.

Martellus Bennett’s play was uneven, and he had a costly holding penalty in the fourth quarter, but his touchdown catch proved crucial, and his third-and-7, 30-yard catch-and-run on a Cutler improvisation was probably the turning point of the game. The holding penalty knocks his A- down to a B.

The offensive line is definitely improved, and how much will be fun to watch as the season goes on. Run blocking wasn’t up to snuff, and even though he never was sacked, Cutler was pressured in the first three quarters.

But Kyle Long makes up for his inexperience with dominant physical ability, and Jordan Mills is studied in his technique and wise well beyond his years. Jermon Bushrod won’t be special but is an upgrade over recent years. Considering the quality of the opponent and potential for disaster, they earned a B+.

The defensive line was disappointing. Julius Peppers just didn’t look like he was 100 percent, and Henry Melton didn’t show up much either. Stephen Paea played the best game.

Although Shea McClellin was credited with a sack, he actually was coming late behind two blitzing linebackers, and the run defense was stout with gaps filled for the most part. But Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was rarely pressured, and the best this group can be given is a C.

Linebacker play was up and down with both Lance Briggs and James Anderson flashing a couple of nice plays and playing the run well. That Bengals running backs and tight ends were held to just 94 yards on 12 catches by the linebackers is a nice job against the pass. I’ll score them a B on the day.

What do we do with the secondary? Without Charles Tillman’s two picks and Jennings’ strip of Mohamed Sanu and fumble recovery, the Bears lose. But Tillman allowed A.J. Green, admittedly an outstanding player, most of his nine catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns and committed a key pass interference, setting up the Bengals’ third touchdown.

Jennings often was overmatched by the Bengals’ size, Major Wright committed the cardinal sin, again, biting on a Dalton arm pump in Cover 2 and allowing Green to blow by him on the 45-yard touchdown toss. Isaiah Frey was late getting where he needed to be more than once.

But you lose the game without them, so I guess it’s a B-/C+.

Special teams were good, not great, but Robbie Gould was special, and his 58-yard field goal was the difference in the game. He earns this group an A-.

The coaches get a B+. I’d love to make it an A, but the fact is, for the first 2 1/2 quarters, the Bears got their butts beat. In spite of that, though, you had to love how they pushed all the right buttons at the end – and coach Marc Trestman’s composure throughout a rocky maiden voyage.

• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at harkush@shawmedia.com.

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